Toasted Toad CellarsToasted Toad Cellars


November 11, 2009 - Thank you to all Veterans and their families


First, let me say thank you to all of the Veterans and to those currently serving as we head into celebrating all of their sacrifices today on this Veteran's Day 2009. Words can never begin to quantify all that they and their families have sacrificed so that all of us can enjoy the freedoms we enjoy in this country. We, at Toasted Toad Cellars, raise a glass of our finest in recognition to you all.


Yesterday, Laura and I went to the winery and tasted all of the different wines, including each different barrel type for each wine. Yes, I can hear all of you saying how much you feel for the sacrifices we endure to bring you the best wine we possibly can. Seriously, it is not always fun. Wine is a living organism and subject to change from day to day so these tastins can be VERY unnerving at times. Particularly now, as many of the wines are going through malolactic fermentation.


Malolactic fermentation is started after primary fermentation has been completed. It often develops "interesting smells and tastes" in the wine while going through the process. In Chardonnay, malolactic fermentation is typically done to get that buttery, creamy flavor. In red wines, it is typically done to improve mouthfeel (roundness) and smoothness (reduction of acid) of the wine.


I am happy to report that we left the winery smiling, and not because of all of the tasting we had done, but because everything is coming along extremely well. Our Viognier is still going through normal cold fermentation and will not undergo malolactic fermentation as we intend to make a crisp, citrusy and tropical fruit flavored wine. Once the Viognier has finished fermenting, we will rack it and barrel it. Then, shortly before bottling we will cold stabilize and filter it. We hope to have this wine in the bottle in Spring 2010 and for sale in the summer of 2010.


All of the reds are coming along great. The Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon are tasting exceptionally good at the moment. There are pronounced differences in each varietal of wine depending on which barrel type we taste. If you are wondering why we would put the same wine in multiple barrel types it is because wood matters. By doing this, when it is time to bottle we will barrel taste each barrel and do blending trials based on the type of wood and the flavor of the wine in each barrel. Depending on the results of these wood based trials, we may do blending trials with other varietals to create a more complex finished wine. - Jeff


October 17, 2009 - Okay now it is over, no really!


So another early morning up before the sun and attach the HMS SuperToad (a.k.a. the trailer) to the Suburban and off to the vineyards for more grapes. This is a solo trip for me since Laura has to go to her real job. I am off to Lodi to get the Tannat. Now, I suspect some of you may not have heard of Tannat before. It is not a particularly common grape in California. In 2005, there were approximately 140 acres of Tannat in the entire state. It is becoming increasingly more common, but still not readily available. And, like all varietals, just because you can find it does not mean that it will provide the characteristics you are looking for. It is truly based on where it is grown and how it is grown.


Our purpose in trying to find Tannat, and our excitement in actually being able to get some, is that it is a fantastic blending wine. It typically provides a complex tannic structure and has intense color and raspberry aromas. We anticipate that some of it may find its way into some of our reds to add complexity.


In addition to picking up the Tannat, I am also getting a second clone of Tempranillo for some home wine that Laura is making. As part of our growth plan, we will do small lots of a variety of wines each year at home to determine which ones to add to our repertoire. Some will be new varietals and some will be from a different vineyard than the ones we are currently using commercially. It is an endless search for the best greapes and for new and interesting offerings that we hope you will enjoy.


UPDATE ON TOADILLY LUSCIOUS WINE (Port Style) - Well since the government regulations do not allow us to call our port style wine "port" we are currently calling it Toadilly Luscious Wine or TLW for short. I am the "port" guy for our home winemaking group and have been for as long as we have been making it. Now there are some real differences between what I can do for homemade wine and for commercially made wine. Some make things easier and some not so much.


Our TLW is being made from Touriga Nacional this year which is one of the traditional port grapes. Touriga is considered to be one of the finest varieties of port grapes. It tends to have small berries, low yields, complex structure, high tannins and intense black fruit flavors. Our grapes were harvested in the morning of October 12th and taken to the winery for crushing. After crushing, the grapes were placed in the cold soak room where they stayed for several days. On the evening of October 15th, the grapes were removed from cold storage and allowed to begin fermentation.


The TLW was approximately 27˚ brix (sugar content) when inoculated on Thursday evening and was already down to 9˚ brix when I arrived Saturday morning. Now that was a crazy fast fementation! Something I have never seen in any other varietal. I am using tthe same Touriga Nacional grapes for the home winemaking groups' port this year and so are a couple of our other winemaking friends. We all experienced the same incredibly fast fermentation even though we all used different years.


Now, back to what I did with the TLW. After finding out the brix has already hit 9˚ brix, we immediately pumped off approximately one barrels' worth of free run juice (juice from the fermentation process that has not been pressed) and began the process of mixing in grape spirits (180 proof un-aged grape brandy). The purpose of adding the grape spirits is primarily to stop further fermentation and to maintain the residual sugar level. Other key reasons to add the spirits are to increase the alcohol content and to add complexity of flavor and aroma. This process is done by taste, so I had to endure a lot of sampling, adding a few gallons to start and then tasting after each half gallon addition. The remainder of the Touriga was allowed to ferment to dry and then pressed and barreled and will be used as another weapon in our arsenal of blending wines or maybe as a small lot reserve release varietal. - Jeff


October 12, 2009 - It's Over! (Almost)


We got up super early today (5:30am) to head to Lodi to pick up the last of our grapes, the Touriga for the Toadilly Luscious Wine. Despite the early wake-up call we were excited because this was the last early morning of the season. We got to Lodi about 7 to drop off our bins and were informed that the pick had been delayed and instead of getting our grapes at 10, we wouldn't be getting them until noon. We decided to go grab some breakfast while we waited. After breakfast, we wandered aimlessly around Staples and Target to kill time. Eventually we decided to head back to pick up the grapes only to end up waiting another 3 hours! At 3pm, 8 hours after we arrived in Lodi, we finally got our grapes. We took them over and started crushing. Some of the grapes went to the winery and some came home with us. So after we were done crushing at the winery, we headed back home to crush the rest of the grapes for some home-made port. Now for the twist, up until 3pm I thought these would be the last grapes of the season, but as it turns out, I hadn't received all of my Tempranillo that I am making at home and the grower informed me that he happened to have some Tannat available. Without even thinking, I said "I want it!" I had only been bugging the grower for months to let me have some of his ONE row of Tannat so it seemed like fate that he now had some available. Let me tell you why I wanted the Tannat so bad - Tannat is like Petite Sirah on steroids. It is even more inky, rich and great for blending. So much for thinking it was will be over on Saturday, seriously! - Laura


October 7, 2009 - A Side Note on Arachnophobia


Despite my love for the great outdoors and camping, I have a major case of arachnophobia. Who decided it was a good idea to create these creepy, crawly creatures with EIGHT legs? I am not necessarily a girly-girl. I do enjoy getting dirty, but I really think that grape sorting is someone's sick way of trying to cure me of my extreme fear of spiders. I can not even begin to tell you how many spiders I have come across in the many hours I have spent on the sorting table. Thousands of those greenish white spiders, one ginormous black widow, a whole bunch of those really nasty jumpy spiders and several huge, gray undetermined spiders. Let me just tell you, I try so hard to suck it up and deal with it for the love of the wine, but today was the final straw. I was having a conversation when I decided to scratch my head and as I pull my hand away I see something...holy cow, it is one of the nastiest, most disgusting jumping spiders! Ever since, I have been freaking out feeling like I have spiders crawling all over me. I am seriously looking forward to the day when the last grapes come in so I can stop avoiding spiders. - Laura


September 25, 2009


Sunrise in Lodi at the Zinfandel vineyard is a beautiful way to start a Friday. The pickers were busy in the vineyard loading our macro bins with the fruit of the grower's labor as they now become the fruits of our labor. It is not too long before the grapes and I head to the winery for crushing. As mentioned previously, the Zinfandel did experience some rain recently which has caused some minimal rot. This, combined with some raisining and some "red" fruit, requires extra care and time in the winery to ensure that only the best grapes make it through to fermentation. Red fruit are grapes that are not quite ripe and often are large and tend to be watery in flavor, causing dilution on the Zinness.


At the winery, we decided to use extra care during crushing with a larger than normal crew involved in the sorting process. This meant having two people picking through the grape clusters before they enter the crusher and then on to a vibratory table after crushing where they are further sorted at the berry level by two more people. Finally, they go into a must pump that moves them to the primary fermentation bins. In the bins, we added untoasted oak and color extraction enzymes along with sulfite to kill the natural yeasts. Now, off for a few days in the big chill and cold soaking.


Monday will be a crazy day with picking, pressing and inoculation. Of course there is no rest for the winemaker this weekend. My home winemaking group's lead winemaker is on vacation so I am in control, trying to confirm a Petite Sirah pick and dealing with the recently picked Cabernet. Cab still needs the analytical work run which I will do and then make the adjustments for brix, pH and TA and then inoculate with not one, but two different yeasts. Also, there will be the twice-a-day punchdowns of the cap and measurement of the brix and temperature. In case you were wondering, harvest is a few months of very long weeks with very long days full of a lot of hard, heavy work and visions of the magic at the end. - Jeff


September 24, 2009


Today is preparation for the Zinfandel and Viognier harvests which are scheduled for Friday this week and Monday of next week. Loaded all the macro bins onto the HMS SuperToad (a.k.a. the trailer) and headed for Lodi, but found that the main road to get there was closed due to a hydrochloric acid spill - insert your favorite expletive here. Finally made it to Lodi, but had to get special dispensation from the CHP to get on the road headed towards the acid spill to drop off the Viognier bins. That being done, I turn around and head towards the Zinfandel vineyard to drop off those bins. Bins dropped off and now to the winery.


At the winery, I check on the Merlot and find that it has nearly fermented to dry and we will press soon and barrel it. Of course we will still need to finish fermentation in the barrel and then go through malolactic fermentation. Forgot to mention that yes, I tasted it and (big smile here) it tastes quite YUMMY. Checked on progress of setting up our variable capacity stainless stell refrigerated tanks for the Viognier which must be completed before Monday so that the whole grape clusters can go straight to press (no crush) and into the tanks for a deep chill. - Jeff


September 21, 2009


Went to check on the vineyards in Lodi today and also check up on the progress of the Merlot. Started the morning off at the Zinfandel vineyard (hoping it would be cooler, but you don't always get what you wish for). The Zinfandel is progressing nicely despite the thunderstorms from last week and it looks like we will be picking it on Friday. We carefully selected which rows will be ours and marked them with some very flashy marking tape. After way too  much time in the heat, I was feeling a tad hungry and we made the mistake of stopping in a sausage shop. It was hog heaven! Everything looked so good, I couldn't make up my mind. Since we didn't have a large enough cooler to pack up the whole shop, we just picked up some garlic salami and were on our way to check on our Merlot.


Oh man! I am so excited about this Merlot. The fruit (lots of berry and some plum) and spice characteristics are developing quite nicely. The yeast are going crazy eating up the sugar and turning it into alcohol. It smells so good and looks so good you almost want to swim in it. Before leaving, I also made sure to label the barrels so my dad will know what goes where. There should be four barrels of Merlot, three of which will be French oak and the other, American oak.


After cooling off a little bit at the winery, we decided to check on our Viognier vineyard. Oh, wishing to be back in the winery! It was a bit toasty outside. The Viognier is also looking good and we should be picking it on Monday. So now, I am off to prepare for the upcoming harvests and make sure all of my toads are in a row before the grapes come in. - Laura


September 17, 2009


Today is the day to start fermentation. After reviewing the lab results, we decided to make some minor adjustments to the TA and to add the yeast. Something to think about is that everything you do or don't do affects the final wine. Winemaking is part science, part art and part luck. Laura is the primary winemaker at Toasted Toad Cellars and she has taken the lead on selecting the yeasts we use for our wines and has developed the protocols we use which are different for each varietal. All of these decisions are aimed at making the best wine we can with the taste and style characteristics we like and hope you will like as well.


By day's end, the yeast has been added to the must and the fermentation bins have been moved out of the cold soak areas to a warmer environment where they will begin to multiply and convert the grape sugars into alcohol in a non-stop (we hope) party akin to spring break in Florida. Party on little yeasties, party on.


In addition to working with the Merlot today, I visited the Zinfandel vineyard to see how the grapes faired with the rain in the Lodi area. The Zinfandel is tasting and looking good, with sugar levels close to where we want to pick, but still waiting for them to develop a bolder flavor profile. After walking the different areas of the vineyards and checking sugar contents, we are going to let the fruit hang over the weekend and we will be back on Monday to see where they are at. There is already some raisining on some clusters, but most are looking good and we will be selective both in the field and at the sorting table to make sure only the best grapes are crushed. Our plan at the moment is to pick towards the end of next week. - Jeff


September 14, 2009 - Ode to Merlot


Well the first grapes of this year's harvest and the first grapes ever for Toasted Toad Cellars were the Merlot, but as with most things in this business it was not without some complication and some hand wringing that our initial harvest occurred. The first challenge for us and for the growers was with the unexpected rain storm that normally I would be relishing, but certainly not until all the grapes are inside and safely crushed.


Being a very small producer, we don't pull very much weight in Napa and Sonoma with most growers and we are often relegated to having our harvest tacked on to a large winery picking. Our Merlot vineyard is located well up in Sonoma in the Alexander Valley near Geyserville. This is not a short run for us and is the furthest location that we will travel to this year to get the best fruit we can find. After numerous emails and phone calls over the weekend, the pick was confirmed for Monday morning, or so we thought.


The preference is to pick the grapes when they are very cool which means very early in the morning and picking often starts in the dark with lights. After a very ugly alarm interrupting our sleep at 5 am we (Laura, Brian and Dad) loaded up the trailer with our virgin macro-bins and headed up the highway in morning commute traffic. As a side note, I still participate in a home winemaking group and these are the only grapes this year that both the home winemaking group and Toasted Toad Cellars are getting from the same vineyard and the home team was also headed up to get those grapes. We were almost to Petaluma where we planned to stop for coffee and a pit stop when the phone rang and we received the news that the pick had been cancelled because of more rain overnight and wet grapes. We decided to continue to the vineyard and drop off the macros and check the vineyard ourselves.


Upon arrival, the vineyard ground was dry and the grape canopy, although wet, was not dripping and the grape bunches were not holding much, if any, water. We walked the vineyard, checked the sugar levels in the three different vineyard blockes of Merlot and reviewed the pH and total acid (TA) level results from the most recent lab analysis. We decided on which block and which rows we wanted picked. After some begging and pleading we were finally able to convince the vineyard manager to see if he could get a picking crew. Success was ours!


In just a few short minutes following the phone call, the pickers started to arrive and then like a trail of ants on their way to a picnic, they were off. If you have never seen "professional pickers" it is like a gaggle of Tasmanian Devils from a cartoon spinning wildly through the vineyard - with virtually no wasted motion - filling the picking bins with flying hands armed with razor sharp knives dropping bunches of grapes. Once filled, the bins are picked up off the ground and run over to the macro bins that are pulled down the rows by tractor. Having harvested many tons of grapes myself, I can only take my hat off to these pros. Wow they are amazing and really seem to be having fun!


In no time at all, our macro bins were filled and loaded back on the trailer so we could start the long run to the winemaking facility in Lodi. Off we headed with Dad at the wheel as Laura and Brian dozed - kids with no stamina, what can you say? Finally, in the afternoon we arrived, the macro bins were unloaded and the crusher/destemmer was prepared for our grapes. The grapes were emptied onto the sorting table and the random leaf and any less than premium bunch of grapes was discarded as the rest moved into the crusher.


As the must (smooshed grapes) was being deposited into our primary fermentation bins, we added untoasted oak to improve the body and the mouthfeel by adding well-rounded tannins. We also added sulfite to sterilize the must for cold soaking. The fermentation bins were then moved to the cold soak room and samples were taken for analysis of sugar, pH, total acidity (TA) and yeast assimable nitrogen (YAN). - Jeff


September 14, 2009


Woke up super early today (5am) to go get our Merlot in Sonoma. When we were almost there we got a call that they were cancelling the pick due to wet weather. Of course the thunderstorms, which I normally love, have to happen the weekend before we are supposed to pick grapes. So we kept driving up to Sonoma and managed to convince them to pick. Watching the crew pick was like Tasmanian Devils had gone through the vineyards. It took the crew about 30 minutes to pick 3 tons of grapes. It was amazing to watch. At around 2 pm we finally arrived in Lodi to crush our grapes. The crew at our facility was very impressed with the quality of our fruit and they could barely keep from snacking on the tasty grapes. Now crushed, the grapes are sitting in cold storage to soak and extract extra goodness from the grapes before adding the yeast on Thursday. Stay tuned for updates on the Merlot. Also, Zinfandel may be on its way! - Laura


September 11, 2009


Just got word that our Merlot from Sonoma is ready and going to be picked any day now! Very exciting to finally crush our first grapes as a commercial winery! - Laura


August 20, 2009


Currently, we are working on finishing sourcing the grapes for this year and figuring out how to transport them to the winemaking facility in Lodi. There is still a lot of work to do before harvest begins! Stay tuned for updates. Cheers! - Laura